franchise's very first draft choice was one Bob Lilly, with the 13th selection in the first round of the 1961 draft. So not a bad place to begin.
What I discovered is this: Of the 17 times the Cowboys selected a player with a top 13 pick, they hit solidly 15 times, with 13 of those players going on to earn a least one Pro Bowl honor. Only once did the Cowboys completely fail, selecting with the fourth pick defensive tackle Scott Appleton (Texas, 1964), who never played a down ... for the Cowboys. Appleton instead decided to sign with the rival AFL, playing three seasons with the Houston Oilers and two more with the San Diego Chargers.
The only other players from that group of 17 not to earn Pro Bowl honors were quarterback Craig Morton (6th in 1965), defensive tackle Danny Noonan (12th in 1987) and wide receiver Alvin Harper (12th in 1991). But it's not as if Morton and Harper didn't contribute greatly to the Cowboys' success while here.
Here is the list of those 13 Pro Bowls produced with a pick in the top 13:
Lilly, 13th in 1961; Lee Roy Jordan, 6th in 1963; John Niland, 6th in 1966; Ed Jones, 1st in 1974; Randy White, 2nd in 1975; Tony Dorsett, 2nd in 1977; Michael Irvin, 11th in 1988; Troy Aikman, 1st in 1989; Maryland, 1st in 1991; Greg Ellis, 8th in 1998; Roy Williams, 8th in 2002; Terence Newman, 5th in 2003; Ware, 11th in 2005.
Not bad, right? In fact, five of those 17 players ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Lilly, White, Dorsett, Irvin and Aikman) and Jordan joins those five in the Cowboys Ring of Honor. Plus, get this: Nine of the 17 played at least 10 seasons for the Cowboys, with Jones setting the franchise record by playing 15 years, one more than Lilly, Jordan and White. Two more guys, Niland (9) and Newman (8 and counting), have played at least eight seasons. And ... only two of the 17 didn't re-sign with the club at least once (Maryland and Harper), but that mostly had to do with the start of free agency.
Make you feel any better since all that occurred with Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson and Chan Gailey and Dave Campo and Bill Parcells as the head coach, plus no matter if the owner was Clint Murchison, Bum Bright or Jerry Jones?
Now then, where the Cowboys have struggled in the first round is selecting from 14 down. Their "hit" percentage is not near as good. Of the 25 players chosen between 14 and 28 in the first - not counting the past three first-round picks since the jury is still out - only four earned Pro Bowl honors. That would be running back Calvin Hill (24th pick in 1969); tight end Billy Joe DuPree (20th in 1973); linebacker Thomas Henderson (18th in 1975) and, uh, one Emmitt Smith (17th in 1990), the only other Cowboys first-round pick to land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Now, they have landed some top players in the latter half of drafts, including running back Duane Thomas (23rd in 1970), but for only two years, defensive end Jim Jeffcoat (23rd in 1983), cornerback Kevin Smith (17th in 1991) and defensive end Marcus Spears (20th in 2005), with the jury still out, right, on Anthony Spencer (26th in 2007), running back Felix Jones (22nd in 2008), corner Mike Jenkins (25th in 2008) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (24th in 2010) - although Jenkins already has been selected to one Pro Bowl, though his play fell off this past season.
But oh, the busts. Tody Smith (25th in 1971) was traded away after two seasons. And then there were the likes of Dennis Homan, Bill Thomas, Charles Young, Aaron Kyle, Robert Shaw, Howard Richards, Rod Hill, Billy Cannon, Kevin Brooks, Mike Sherrard, Robert Jones, Shante Carver, David LaFleur and Bobby Carpenter. The careers with the Cowboys, though, of Cannon (one season), Sherrard (one) and LaFleur (four) were cut short by injuries. And as you can see, the busts were equally spread out over the first 29 years and the past 22.
All those, remember, were in the latter half of the draft when the talent begins to fade, and one of the reasons that begs the Cowboys this time around, what with the ninth pick, not to trade out of that top-13 neighborhood. Seems like the talent schism between nine and, say, 15 to 20, is too great to be supplemented by whatever extra picks would be gained in a